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Should Debarking Surgery Be Banned?

Should Debarking Surgery Be Banned?

Commonly known as “debarking” or “devocalization,” ventriculocordectomy is a procedure that silences dogs permanently through surgery. Every year, thousands of dogs are reduced to rasping voices via debarking. It’s a controversial procedure that most vets use only as a last resort.

Unfortunately, too many dog owners — out of laziness, ignorance, or both — opt for the surgery before they’ve tried the myriad behavioral solutions for excessive barking. They may tell a vet they’ve done everything to deal with the barking, and what’s a vet to do? Send over spy cams?

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) official position on the procedure is that it should be used only when all else has failed. Currently only one state, Massachusetts, has laws against debarking.

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Debarked dogs are easy to recognize as soon as they open their mouths to say something. They try to bark and but instead out comes a raspy, coughlike sound. Sometimes these dogs gag on their barks. I met one of these dogs a few years ago, and she looked very disturbed and uncomfortable when she barked. It was even disturbing to hear her try. Her owner told me she wished she’d never had it done.

In a very informative New York Times piece on the procedure, veterinarian Sharon Vanderlip provides some excellent answers to reader questions. She describes the two surgical techniques used in devocalization.

One technique, known as laryngotomy, is painful, dangerous, and can ruin a dog for life. Fortunately, this Spanish Inquisition-like procedure is not the method most veterinarians use these days. But the fact that anyone still resorts to it is very disturbing. Vanderlip describes it:

“This technique involves making a two-inch incision on the skin of the neck, above the dog’s larynx, separating the muscles, cauterizing blood vessels, entering the larynx, removing all of the dog’s vocal fold tissue and stitching the incision back together. This technique is invasive, painful, requires gas anesthesia and has a prolonged recovery time. There can be serious postoperative complications, including seroma formation, delayed healing and tissue damage. Scarring can be so extensive that the dog can have difficulty breathing for the rest of its life.”

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The other surgery is done through the mouth and takes only a couple of minutes; dogs are generally able to eat and drink right away. Vets remove a small bit of tissue in one or both vocal folds of the anesthetized dog. It’s far less invasive and dangerous, and much better tolerated, but it’s by no means always the walk in the park it’s supposed to be.

“Though an experienced vet devocalized our gentle giant, Porter, in the least invasive way, scar tissue formed in his throat, making it hard for him to breathe and swallow; he rasps, coughs and gags throughout the day like a chain smoker,” writes one of the originators of the petition. “Because devocalization permanently damaged his larynx too, he’s at great risk for inhaling food, liquids, even vomit into his lungs.”

Porter, the big sweetie in this video, had a $2,000 surgery to try to help him breathe better after his previous owners had him debarked. (Oh, and they gave him up anyway.) It didn’t do much good. So sad!

But what about the people who have, indeed, tried everything? What if the choice comes down to debarking or giving up the dog because of complaining neighbors or the law? It can be a death sentence for the barker if the latter is the option. Excessive barking is a big reason many dogs are in shelters. They’re not exactly highly adoptable.

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So what’s worse in this situation: Muffling a dog’s voice or killing the dog? AKC honoree Charlotte McGowan opts for the surgery.

“It’s giving a tool to someone who really loves their animal and is at the end of their rope,” McGowan, who refers to the procedure as “bark softening,” told NBC News.

What do you think? Would you like to see debarking banned? If so, what about caring owners who have tried utterly everything and are facing the prospect of their dog being destroyed? Should there be some amendment for them if they can prove their case? Let’s talk in the comments!

Photo: Closeup of barking dog by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Maria Goodavage, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.

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176 comments

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9:20PM PDT on Apr 3, 2014

Sorry, Danny, and while I applaud you adopting this dog, maybe you should have considered finding her a more suitable environment where her barking wasn't an issue. Debarking is rarely appropriate, and just because you failed as her handler and you couldn't find a trainer smart enough to deal with it doesn't mean mutilating her was the answer. As we've all said here previously, some breeds are prone to bark and that is their nature. You probably didn't take her breeding into consideration when you got her. You CAN'T take the "bark" out of a Sheltie, nor the "dig" out of a Husky, or the "chase" out of a herding breed like a GSD, so you either deal with it and accept it or you do something drastically inappropriate, which is what you've done.

If your kids cried too much, would you have their vocal cords removed?

5:26PM PDT on Apr 3, 2014

No, it should not be banned. I live in Iran and have four pets; all adopted. the first cutie i adopted is Lili, she barked so much that we were thrown out of three houses cause of complaining neighbors, i got her a trainer, i tried everything, the doctor even prescribed medication to calm her down (she was having mental issues cause of the way she'd been treated by her previous owners) Nothing worked. and i mean nothing. then her vet, who's one of the best we have here in Tehran suggested the procedure. after being forced to move from the last place, i finally gave in. She's now 8 years old and still barks as much as she used to but her bark is soft and thank god she didn't have any problems after the surgery. So it shouldn't be banned cause I would rather have died than given her up.

10:25PM PST on Dec 27, 2013

NO, debarking surgery should NOT be banned. It's foolish to even consider banning it because it can SAVE the LIVES of innocent dogs.

3:04AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

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7:24AM PDT on Mar 28, 2013

I’ll spell it out for those who don’t understand the world we live in: Because the law makes it illegal for dogs to utter more than a bark or two in the city or suburbs, and because the punishment is to have your dog taken away from you, and because 98 percent of the US population lives in the city and suburbs, and because shelter dogs with a record of being barkers don't get adopted: Therefore, only a tiny fraction of noisy dogs could ever be “rehomed where barking is not an issue.” So, essentially, the punishment for barking becomes DEATH. People who want to make debarking illegal need to understand that they are essentially advocating killing dogs for being noisy.

6:56AM PDT on Mar 28, 2013

I don't know whether there's any point in replying to someone as completely and utterly naiive as Lydia, because I think most people in our society understand that there is no possibility whatsoever of "training" people. Our society continues to get more and more intolerant of any kind of disturbance, of having to see or hear or smell anything that could disturb anyone. Political correctness has become a straight jacket and the law goes along with it. The law makes it illegal for dogs to utter more than a bark or two in the city or suburbs, and the punishment is to have your dog taken away from you. Anyone who thinks people can be told to "learn to tolerate it" is living in a fantasy world, not in the real world.

7:36AM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

No de-barking surgery, EVER. Some dogs are naturally quiet, some can be taught not to bark so much, and others...well, we need to train the humans not to be so intolerant of the sound. It amazes me that people who complain about barking live next to traffic, near train tracks, airplanes fly overhead, they blast their stereos, police sirens wail throughout the night, etc. And yet, children squealing, dogs barking, and even birds cheeping bother them. It seems to me that some people have underlying anger issues and are directing their hostility toward an easy (albeit, sometimes annoying) victim. Dogs bark and people talk...sometimes too much. Live and let live.

10:49AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

Yes, it should. Period.

4:05AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

I think this is appalling and in my opinion should be illegal. Now i can think of all the millions of degenerates across this world that should be forced to have their voices permentally erased from this earth. Animal abusers and pedophiles to start!!!!

2:32PM PST on Jan 18, 2013

De-Barking Surgery Should be Banned .

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